MADISON, Wisconsin — The Wisconsin Supreme Court said Wednesday it will hear arguments in two separate lawsuits challenging the state's requirement that voters show photo identification at the polls, after saying three times previously it would not take up the issue.
The 2011 voter ID law, in effect only briefly before it was blocked by a judge in early 2012, is the subject of four ongoing lawsuits. In addition to the two cases the Supreme Court is hearing, there are two in federal court that were the subject of a trial that completed last week.
The law, passed by the Republican Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker, required voters to show a valid photo ID in order to vote. Challengers raised a number of issues questioning the constitutionality of such a requirement, especially on people who don't currently have IDs and may have difficulty getting one.
Republican supporters argue the law is needed to combat voter fraud, even though there have only been a handful of cases of wrongdoing. Opponents say the measure is really designed to make it more difficult for Democratic voters to cast their ballots.
A Dane County judge ruled in early 2012 that the law was unconstitutional in a case brought by the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera.
On three separate occasions, most recently in January, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case as it worked its way through the appeals courts. Oral arguments were scheduled for it on Dec. 27 before the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Waukesha.
The Supreme Court, in its order Wednesday, said it was taking up the NAACP case "in the interest of judicial economy" since it was also granting a request by the League of Women Voters to hear the appeal of its case. In that lawsuit, a Dane County judge struck down the law as unconstitutional in March 2012, but the 4th District Court of Appeals overruled the decision in May.
"I am very pleased the court has agreed to take these cases and I look forward to defending the law," said Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen in a statement.
Richard Saks, attorney for the NAACP, said he knew the Supreme Court would ultimately have the final word and he is believes there is a strong record to support his arguments.
Lester Pines, attorney for the League of Women Voters, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.